On opening night, Robert Lepage’s new, gargantuan production of “Die Walkure” had all the potential of being opera’s “Spider-Man.” For her entrance, Deborah Voigt, the Brunnhilde, took a bad spill trying to negotiate the set’s moving staircase; and also in act two, Margaret Jane Wray, made an unannounced appearance as Sieglinde, taking over for the suddenly indisposed Sieglinde, Eva-Maria Westbroek. But no one got a concussion, and Lepage’s staging continues to fulfill the enormous promise of last autumn’s “Das Rheingold,” the first in Richard Wagner’s four-part “Ring of the Nibelung.”
“Rheingold,” with its many entrances and exits of nymphs, giants and dwarves, is the more natural fit for Lepage’s Cirque du Soleil derring-do stagecraft. “Walkure” is much more earth-bound with its story of the long-lost twin siblings Sieglinde and Siegmund (Jonas Kaufmann), who fall in love, and the marital squabbles of the gods Wotan (Bryn Terfel) and Fricka (Stephanie Blythe), who act just like mortals. Still, Lepage delivers as a master showman.
For once, the Met audience can be forgiven for applauding the scenery, in this case the ride of the Valkyries in which the humongous “keys” of Carl Fillion’s piano board set (known as The Machine backstage at the Met) are harnessed and ridden by the lady warriors. For all their massive high-tech wizardry, those keys are incredibly malleable, turning in an instant from phallic horses to trees, mountain tops, Hunding’s hut and molten lava.
This is a most literal Ring. Through Boris Firquet’s projections, Lepage even gives us the characters’ various back stories, in case anyone happened to have missed or forgotten “Rheingold.”
One expects to be visually wowed by Lepage, but this “Walkyre,” thanks to James Levine and his singers, lives in its music and drama. The high-profile stage of the Met wouldn’t seem to be the ideal place to deliver one’s first Siegmund, but Kaufmann sounds and acts the role with total confidence. His may not be the biggest heldentenor, but it’s extremely focused and certainly one of the most pliant voices ever to have essayed Siegmund.
Terfel puts aside his crooning Wotan of “Rheingold” for a full-voiced, totally committed performance that is at turns angry, outraged, remorseful and especially resentful of his wife, who gets her way. Blythe’s stentorian Fricka leaves no doubt who wears the pants in this family.
Voigt is a most vulnerable Brunnhilde. Perhaps a bit too vulnerable. The high-flying “Hojotoho!”s were a trial. The most mezzo-ish range of the role later in the opera proves more comfortable, but even here the voice seems to be riding not a sturdy horse by the very edge of her vocal chords.
Terfel has abandoned the Veronica Lake peek-a-boo hairdo of “Rheingold” (and still on display in the Ring’s posters around Lincoln Center). Voigt might also consider a makeover before she attempts “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung” next season. With those long red locks and silver warrior outfit, she’s a dead-ringer for Kathy Griffin on Halloween.